Water bomb - farmers' livelihoods 'at risk' from BHP mega-mine

LIVERPOOL Plains farmers claim their worst fears over BHP Billiton’s proposed underground mine at Caroona have been realised after confirmation the project will decimate some groundwater reserves.

The mining giant’s own agricultural impact assessment had predicted a “drawdown” of up to 185m in aquifers used by farmers to grow crops on the most fertile black soils in the country.

The worst affected landholders maintain the loss of such a significant portion of groundwater would effectively render their properties dry, sending land values crashing and jeopardising arrangements with their banks.

Rod Grant, 42, whose family has been farming the Liverpool Plains for more than half a century, said he was left in total disbelief after seeing the figure in a report lodged with the NSW government just weeks ago.

He said BHP, in all its years of consultations with landholders in the area, had never revealed to either him or his farming father, Allan, just how “catastrophic” the mine’s impact would be on their groundwater.

“They’ve basically always said they won’t be having an impact on groundwater and even now they say it won’t have an impact on production, but without water, our production basically goes to zero,” he said.

The Grants draw the water for their Lanark property from just 18m below the surface.

However, according to BHP’s figures, in time they would need to go to depths of more than 185m, with no guarantee of quality.

“I don’t really think drawing water from that depth will be the solution because it will be brackish, so we couldn’t drink the water and stock couldn’t drink the water, so there will no water available on the property,” Mr Grant said.

The Grants claim BHP had previously offered only a flippant promise to “make good” any impacts on their groundwater, but exactly how they planned to do that had yet to be explained to them.

BHP has begun the environmental approvals process for the Caroona mine, located about 50km south of Gunnedah, which is expected to provide up to 10 million tonnes of thermal coal a year for 30 years.

Fellow Caroona farmer Ken Dugan, 66, who faces the prospect of having his groundwater reserves drawn down by 163m, according to BHP’s report, said it was more apparent than ever that the project should not be approved.

“These drawdowns they’re talking here exceed any levels we ever thought and I can’t figure out how they can determine that’s only a low impact on our area, because for us, that’s massive,” he said.

“We need some of these government agencies to review this development on the strictest terms of assessment possible because otherwise it will be catastrophic for the whole area, not just those (near the mine).”

The Leader contacted BHP yesterday for a response to the farmers’ concerns, but was told no one was available.

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